Clover Point, site of one of Victoria's primary sewage screening plants, from across Ross Bay. Photo © Blake Handley, via Creative Commons and flickr

Clover Point, site of one of Victoria’s primary sewage screening facilities, from across Ross Bay. Photo © Blake Handley, via Creative Commons and flickr

The new sewage-treatment schedule that the Capital Regional District proposed earlier this month contains tight deadlines.

In order for this latest development to pan out, proponents for building a secondary treatment plant in the region must determine a new timeline and acquire all approvals and a site for the treatment plant by this time next year.

At stake is an $83.4 million grant from PPP Canada for a facility to handle material removed from liquid sewage.

Project opponents may see the extension as yet one more year to cause delay.

Of course, if the CRD or either group of municipalities that is exploring sewage-treatment options doesn’t meet the March 2016 conditions, the larger initiative will churn on. Two other federal grants, worth $170 million, and the province’s contributions have roomier deadlines that may accommodate the region’s revised forecast for completion by 2023.

Delay, in fact, may result in better sewage treatment options. For example, researchers announced this January that they had identified and successfully extracted appreciable amounts of rare metals from biosolid samples collected from cities across the U.S. Their study focused on 13 high-value minerals, including gold, silver, copper, iridium, and platinum. Extrapolating their results, the researchers estimate $16 million dollars worth of metals could be accumulating every year in the sewage of a city with one million residents.

Of that, the researchers say almost $3.5 million could come from gold and silver alone….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Clover Point, from the west. Photo © Blake Handley, via Creative Commons and flickr

Sign of the foo. Photo © TimParkinson, via Creative Commons and

Sign of the foo. Photo © TimParkinson, via Creative Commons and

In the recent Incident of the Abandoned Ford Thunderbird, the Sooke resident who found the abandoned car, complete with registration papers, in the woods near Bear Creek posted a scathing rant online and notified police.

Instead of immediately fining the car’s owner under the conservation and motor vehicle acts, the RCMP turned the incident into a learning opportunity. They gave the owner a choice: remove and properly dispose of the vehicle within a given timeframe, or face fines of up to $3000.

The related media and online coverage served to remind us all of the laws against dumping garbage and unwanted goods on private and public lands.

The Capital Regional District defines illegal dumping as any activity by which waste materials are intentionally disposed of in an unauthorized location. This includes abandoning used goods on sidewalks, in alleyways and other public spaces. It includes the dumping of waste on logging roads and other rural spaces, and other ways of ridding oneself of garbage at another’s expense.

A 2011 survey of the region’s municipalities, recycling depots and non-profit recycling organizations indicates the most common materials illegally discarded here are furniture and mattresses, and the most frequent locations are along municipal boulevards.

I beg to differ. Far fewer sofas, mattresses and so on are left to rot along the region’s roadways in any given month than bags full of dog doo are left to decorate the bushes, trees and trails of our parks and green spaces….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Dog doo wars. Photo © Newtown Grafitti, via Creative Commons and flickr

Dog doo wars. Photo © Newtown Grafitti, via Creative Commons and flickr

Recycling via blue box programs. Photo © William Mewes, via flickr & creative commons

The Hartland landfill faces a revenue shortage. The $107 tipping fee covers the costs of running the dump and the region’s Blue Box recycling program. Although the Powers-That-Be are considering solutions, shortfalls in user-pay income at the dump will likely continue. As more and more items are diverted from the garbage stream, less material will end up at Hartland, and fewer fees will be paid.

We’ve all experienced other versions of this scenario. We’ve upgraded to energy-efficient appliances, draught-proofed our homes, and brought household energy use down. Yet, our Hydro bills are higher than ever. We’ve switched to water-efficient dishwashers, toilets and showers, landscaped our yards with drought-tolerant plants, and now use less water than ever. Yet, water bills have increased.

Even as we recycle more and more, the costs of managing our waste—be it materials that are reused, recycled, composted, turned into fuel, or landfilled—are unlikely to go down. How we pay those costs will change. New provincial recycling regulations, coming into effect May 19, will shift costs from taxpayers to producers and, ultimately, to consumers. But as traditional user-pay revenue streams shrink, more and more pressure will be placed on governments (read, taxpayers) to make up shortfalls.

And with the CRD aiming for an eventual zero-waste goal for the region, the question of how to pay for the Hartland Landfill will become ever sharper. To quote CRD Communications and Education Development Supervisor Monique Booth from the March 29 edition of this newspaper, “Our direction now is to move up the hierarchy, in the sense that if we reduce or reuse these items, we don’t even have to deal with recycling them. It’s about only buying what you need, buying items that are higher quality so you don’t have to replace them as frequently…. So it’s about being smart with your purchases and only buying what you need.”

Zero waste is a laudable goal. The world is awash in waste. A Texas-sized island of plastic garbage gyres in the mid-North Pacific. Beaches and bays along the coast accumulate refuse brought in on currents and tides. Landfills are filling up. The waste-incineration industry, which zero-waste proponents insist falls outside the reduce–reuse–recycle definition of zero waste, is booming in many countries.

But turning towards a zero-waste economy will entail excruciating growing pains….

Read the rest of the editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Here on the coast, where concerns about frost pass sooner, the warm-weather construction season begins earlier than most places in Canada.

At home, Nature Boy and I are moving on to Book 3 in the ongoing saga of our kitchen renovation. Outside, we get to experience snarled-up traffic due to the year-by-year march of road-repair projects throughout the region.

According to my property-tax bill, the region and municipalities accepted the necessity of upgrading subsurface infrastructure years ago. Those upgrades (and the tax notice) are other seasonal highlights.


Read the rest of this column in the Victoria Times Colonist.

Mural art along the Galloping Goose trail. Photo by Alejandro Erickson

A couple of years back, archeologists undertook to examine decades-old graffiti on the walls of a London flat once rented by the punk-rock band the Sex Pistols.

The vandalism comprises eight scrawling cartoons. Most were created by John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten, and feature himself, his fellow band members and other Pistols associates.

The archeologists later intoned in the journal Antiquities that the drawings, like the cave paintings at Lascaux, France, are pieces of art and deserve archeological investigation.


Continue reading…


Sources for this article include:

Johnny Rotten’s graffiti: the new heritage?

Capital Regional District bylaw

Church dome painted by graffiti artists


Victoria Times Colonist, December 15, 2012—Before I moved to Saanich, I never thought a person could suffer from sidewalk envy.

But here I am, living on a somewhat busy street in a neighbourhood that shed its last rural traces decades ago. On one side of the street, a ditch drains stormwater and runoff. On the other side, a narrow, raised ribbon of asphalt separates a strip of tarmac from the roadway.

That strip is the sidewalk. It’s usually adequate. Thanks to “no parking” signs on every power pole, nobody parks on it for long anymore, but during storms, entire sections become rivers. Its narrowness forces users to step into traffic when they meet oncoming pedestrians.

city non-sidewalk, by Jay-P at

Kids and parents troop up and down that strip to the schools at the end of the street every school day.

I’m thankful for this bit of pedestrian-only tarmac, yet every time I step out my door and head down the hill, I covet the sidewalks of Oak Bay and Victoria—concrete sidewalks, sidewalks raised inches above real gutters, lining most streets, lining both sides of streets….

In the 2012 CRD Regional Pedestrian and Cycling Masterplan, which despite its title is largely about cycling, the authors state one of the reasons they don’t identify pedestrian-trail networks in the document is that most municipalities in the region lack detailed information about sidewalks, curb let-downs, and marked crossings.

Indeed, great disparity in pedestrian information and facilities exists here. Esquimalt, with its 2007 Pedestrian Charter explicitly committing the township to developing pedestrian facilities and networks, is a high point. Oak Bay and Victoria do well by their walkers, as well. View Royal also has some lovely pedestrian boulevards.

And then there are large areas of urban Saanich. The municipality is playing catch-up on decades of residential development that omitted sidewalks. Every year, engineers and crews now retrofit a few more kilometres of raised, curbed walkways along busier streets.

The masterplan’s authors provide a second reason for not dwelling on pedestrian matters: pedestrians tend to walk locally—on local streets, through local parks, to nearby banks, libraries, shopping—and in combination with other forms of transportation—to and from bus stops, bike racks and parking lots. With such foot-traffic patterns, the authors say, pedestrian-related efforts should focus on developing access to regional services, centres and transportation hubs.

That would be helpful.

However, among the 10 percent of regional residents identified as regular pedestrians, a small but significant number of people regularly walk four, five or six kilometres across entire municipalities twice a day to get to offices or appointments. I know individuals who walk or used to walk to work from near Oak Bay Village to Blanshard Street, from near Macaulay Point to the Inner Harbour, from Hillside Avenue to Cook Street Village, and from Carey Road to Fort Street. Why are people like these discounted?

It’s strange to live in a community where something so fundamental as walking is overlooked. If pedestrians in the region feel disenfranchised, well, they are.

It sometimes seems dogs, with their impassioned owners, have a greater voice around here than pedestrians do.

The region’s foot soldiers could learn from the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, formed in 1992 to advocate on behalf of cyclists. Instrumental in developing the Galloping Goose Trail, the organization is now providing input into the E&N Railway Trail. It actively solicits members for participation and comment on cycling-related issues and initiatives such as the Pedestrian and Cycling Masterplan and on road-safety improvements to routes such as the Shelbourne Street corridor and Admirals Road. It is involved in Bike to Work Week, it offers regular safety clinics to area cyclists, and helps keep cyclists’ interests on each municipality’s agenda.

Way to go! The coalition has earned its successes through hard work and clear vision.

So, pedestrians of Victoria, in these dark days of the year when your own are being injured and killed in marked crosswalks and fingers are being pointed and wagged at you, consider this: Are you upset enough with the current state of pedestrian matters to unite your disparate selves, find your collective voice, and begin advocating for your own safety, rights, interests and needs?

Including sidewalks.



A version of this article appeared in the Victoria Times Colonist.


deer in rockland, by Mike Nelson Pedde,


Victoria Times Colonist, December 1, 2012—Four schools were locked down in November due to cougar sightings, and on Wednesday, CRD’s planning, transportation and protective services committee began considering the new Regional Deer Management Strategy.

Predator. And prey.

No discussion of one can completely ignore the other.

We’ve heard a great deal about the apparent increase in local deer populations, about aggressive deer, increased damage by deer to crops and gardens, and deer-caused car accidents.

Deer have always lived here. They come to our gardens, farms and parks, lured by tasty pickings. They reproduce. They become habituated to humans.

And they are protected by our intolerance of large carnivores, like cougars, wolves and bears, and by our laws restricting hunting, harassment and transport of wildlife.

We create an island paradise for deer. Then we complain.

But, by encouraging abundant deer, we also invite their predators to move in. If we’re uncomfortable with the current numbers of deer, we’re even more nervous about their predators.

In the 12 years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen a cougar once, but I know they’re around. There are too many green spaces, too many new developments squeezing big-cat territory, and too many deer for the region to be cougar-free.

Cougars prefer to eat deer. When deer are unavailable, the cats will prey on rabbits, rodents, raccoons, dogs, house cats, geese… even insects. British Columbians are more likely to be killed by domestic dogs, stinging insects, deer or moose, or other humans than by cougars, but that doesn’t mean we want cougars anywhere near our children or our pets. Or us. Because very occasionally, cougars do attack humans.

Every time a cougar is reported in the area, focus turns on the cats. If conservation officers and their dogs confirm the sighting, the cat is tracked, usually captured and carted away, sometimes killed.

I suspect most cougars that find their way into urban Victoria are young males trying to establish themselves on edges of territories claimed by older, tougher males. They have to be young to be here, because we removed the older cats long ago.

The curious thing is, when we did that, we paved the way not just for the current increase in deer–human encounters, but also for increased cougar–human encounters. According to researchers at Washington State University, when you kill off older, experienced cougars—the cats that have learned to avoid humans—young, dumb cats move in. The youngsters are just looking to survive their first years away from Mom, and aren’t yet wise to the fact that mixing with humans is Trouble.

Every wildlife issue we’ve experienced in the region—the feral rabbits, the abundant and aggressive deer, the less common cougar and bear incursions, the garbage raccoons and the rats—is really a human-management issue. We did away with the predators. We introduced rabbits and rats. We encourage the raccoons and deer. We live in their territory. We don’t learn.

Wildlife biologists agree that coexistence between carnivores and humans depends primarily on managing human attitudes and behaviours. Among the recommendations included in the Regional Deer Management Strategy for decreasing deer–human conflicts are a number that touch on our own unhelpful behaviours.

These recommendations include enforcing municipal bylaws against feeding wildlife, encouraging use of deer-resistant plants in gardens and landscaping, fencing in food gardens and using repellants wherever possible, and generally discouraging deer from habituating to humans.

The strategy also recommends municipalities adjust bylaws to allow higher, deer-proof fences, examine and implement population-reduction measures appropriate to each area, provide support to farmers, in terms of fencing costs, hazing tactics, and crop protection, and adjust signage, speeds, and road-allowance maintenance on roadways to lower the number of vehicle collisions with deer.

It also suggests region-wide public education will be critical.

As capturing and relocating humans from the region aren’t options, addressing our ongoing contributions to wildlife problems is critical.

When we consider the strategy’s recommendations to the CRD over the coming months, we must consider also the broader wildlife implications. Whatever we do about prey species will affect their predators. And vice versa.

And not necessarily the way we intend.


A version of this article appeared in the Victoria Times Colonist.

dead salmon, by Christopher Porter

Victoria Times Colonist, November 17, 2012—October’s turn in weather, bringing rain after months of sun and heat, has at last raised water levels  on the Cowichan River and cleared the way for the salmon.

How nice that something can enjoy the end to the glorious summer we had.

Just six weeks ago, the river nearly ran dry along some reaches. Salmon returning to the river found their passage upstream blocked by low water.

. Volunteers started rescuing the salmon. They trapped the fish, trucked them upstream, and released them at Sandy Pools and Skutz Falls.

But a month of rain has replenished river levels. I visited Skutz Falls a few weeks ago. There was still insufficient water to fill the fish ladders around the rapids, but Coho and Chinook were flinging themselves up the river’s natural white-water channels.

They are once again fulfilling their biological destinies by returning to their birthplace to reproduce.

And die.

The salmon’s instinctual call to destiny is a strange and wonderful thing. It places greater value on the interests of future generations than on any individual fish’s survival.

We could learn from that.

The problems on the Cowichan River stem from too much water being released via the Cowichan Lake weir earlier this year, leaving too little to buffer the river from severe drought six months later. But what happened here reflects river-flow problems across North America.

In Prince Edward Island, rivers were so low and warm this fall, fish became scarce. In the U.S., 160-kilometres of Nebraska’s Platte River dried up completely, and the mighty Mississippi fell by more than six metres.

Closer to home, below-average winter snowpack and months of dry, warm weather caused sections of rivers in the Peace Region to turn to mud and gravel. And on the Columbia River, annual flow has declined by more than 14 percent since 1950. One-third of the Columbia’s water originates in here in B.C.

What happens to the Columbia, the Kiskatinaw, the Moberly, the Beatton and the Cowichan can happen to the Fraser, the Skeena and, yes, the Goldstream and the Sooke.

After all, geologists report that Ontario’s Niagara and St. Clair rivers dried up completely 7000 years ago. A 25 to 40 percent decrease in annual precipitation and a 5o C rise in average temperatures caused water to evaporate faster from the Great Lakes than it was replaced. Lake levels dropped 20 metres, cutting off the rivers, shutting off Niagara Falls.

The study’s authors say similar temperatures and precipitation are within the range predicted for the region by 2100.

That is, what happened under climate change once can happen again.

Simon Fraser University researchers say we can expect a 20 percent drop in precipitation in B.C. by mid-century. Under climate change, spring and summer rains will decrease, and annual snow and ice accumulation in the province’s mountains and glaciers will decline. Glaciers store water in winter and release it slowly to rivers in summer. As glaciers disappear, late-summer river levels will fall drastically, right when demand for freshwater for agriculture, fisheries, industry and urban use increases.

Clearly, if these climate scenarios occur, B.C. rivers will experience increasingly difficult years.

British Columbians have always considered freshwater a renewable resource—one that falls from the sky like pennies from heaven. But when it ceases to splash down abundantly where and when it is needed, freshwater may become scarily scarce even here on the Wet Coast.

Kudos to the Capital Regional District for encouraging responsible water use. Despite a 14 percent increase in regional population, the CRD water board reports in its 2012 strategic plan that water use in the region has actually decreased by 11 percent since 2001. Seasonal watering restrictions, metering, rebates on water-efficient fixtures and appliances, and voluntary efficiency audits by businesses have brought about the gains, and will help extend our water supply.

However, more needs to be done by each of us.

It is time, while freshwater remains plentiful here, to learn from this year’s Cowichan River salmon, and reconsider how we each use and manage this resource now, so enough remains for future needs.

And for future generations of salmon.


A version of this column appeared in the Victoria Times Colonist.